Halfway through the 14-round chess Candidates and there has been a change at the top as France’s Maxime Vachier-Lagrave defeated Round Six leader Ian Nepomniachtchi in a direct duel for first place.
Both players are now on 4.5 points after seven games and leading. A group of four players, all on 3.5 points, follow them. The race is now wide open again as at least six players have solid chances to fight for the first place.
The game between Maxime Vachier-Lagrave (France) and Ian Nepomniachtchi (Russia) was one of the key games of the round and the tournament in Yekaterinburg. Nepomniachtchi started round seven with a whole point ahead of his closest rival, Vachier-Lagrave, and was hoping to increase his lead.
Before this round, the two met 13 times and the score is clearly in favor of the Frenchman: seven draws, one loss and five victories against Nepomniachtchi. However, Nepomniachtchi won their last game before the Candidates, played in Jerusalem in 2019.
The position was sharp from the very opening, with Nepomniachtchi opting for the French Defence. Both players demonstrated a good level of preparation. Commenting on the game, British Grandmaster Daniel King pointed out that the line, which Black chose to play, was very sharp suggesting it was a very brave but risky decision of Nepomniachtchi. It seemed it was more the latter than the former as the Russian gradually got into time trouble while White managed to open up his pieces more. The Frenchman launched an attack on the Black king and Nepomniachtchi had to be very careful about his move choices. Eventually, Black’s defenses collapsed as White was dominating all over the board. Black resigned.
Nepomniachtchi now might be regretting his choice of opening and for deciding to play a very sharp line. Luck favors the brave, but not always.
After the game, Vachier-Lagrave said that he is satisfied with how the tournament is going for him. “Apart from the game with Wang Hao, I played reasonably well [at the tournament]. I hope to continue this trend and to be able to stay on this journey”, the Frenchman said.
After this victory, Maxime Vachier-Lagrave joined Nepomniachtchi at the top as both players now have 4.5 points out of seven games. Despite the two having the same number of points, Vachier-Lagrave is at the top thanks to being the winner in their direct encounter.
Both Fabiano Caruana (USA) and Wang Hao (China) were on 50% before this round.
The two agreed on a draw on move 41.
Caruana, the winner of the 2018 Candidates had to pick up speed if he wanted to be in the run for the first place. However, he was facing Wang Hao, a dangerous and uneasy opponent who already had a good score against the World #2 – five victories, four draws, and no defeats. Still, the majority of the games were played seven or more years ago. Since 2013, the two played just once, in the Isle of Man Grand Swiss in October 2019, where they drew.
Caruana started with 1.e2-e4, suggesting a more open game. Wang Hao responded with his traditional Petrov Defence. Caruana castled on the queenside, and Wang Hao on the kingside, signaling a sharp game ahead. After an exchange of queens, White launched his g-pawn towards the Black king’s castle. The g-pawn was exchanged and the situation on the board calmed down. The position quickly transpired into an endgame (as Caruana said in the post-game interview, he could not remember all the lines so opted to simplify and go for an endgame). Black was slightly better but not enough to exploit the advantage to a full point. The two agreed on a draw on move 41
With 3.5 points out of seven games, both players are still in the run for the top spot and will likely pick up their pace in the second part of the tournament.
Alexander Grischuk (Russia) continues to be the king of draws at the 2020 Candidates. The Russian drew all his games, including the round seven game with Anish Giri (The Netherlands).
The two have played 14 times before this game, and Giri leads by 2:1 with 11 draws. The last decisive game was in 2015 when Giri won.
The English opening was played. As in all previous games, Grischuk spent a lot of time in the opening. However, by move 15 the queens have been exchanged and by move 25 there was a further exchange of pieces in the center leaving both players with a rook, a bishop and five pawns each. The position was balanced. After further exchanges of material, the position transpired into a rook endgame with three pawns each on the kingside. It was an easy draw and the two players soon agreed to split a point.
In the post mortem, Giri said that Grischuk played well and managed to find the most sophisticated moves in the opening, holding the position. The Dutchman confessed to an unusual conflict of interest in this game, saying that although he “obviously wanted to win” he also wanted the trend of draws to go from him to his opponent (who has already drawn all other games at the event). Following this logic, Grischuk is now even more likely to make draws while Giri is supposed to start his winning streak. The following rounds will tell if this is the case or not. Both players have solid chances as they are just one point behind the leaders (on 3.5 points after seven games).
Ding Liren (China) drew as White with Kirill Alekseenko (Russia).
Both players were on two points after six rounds and were at the bottom of the board before Round Seven.
This was a duel between the Chinese pre-start favorite and the Russian wild-card outsider. The two played twice before and both games ended in a draw.
The Russian comedian Andrey Rozhkov, Yekaterinburg’s native, made the first ceremonial move in the game. The Catalan was played. Black quickly managed to equalize and create a stable position. Eventually, Black created a free pawn on the c-file, in a rook endgame. However, White’s pieces were close enough to block Black’s advance to the promotional line and a draw was agreed after a repetition of moves.
Both players were not enthusiastic about the outcome in the post-game analysis. Ding Liren said that it was not a good day for him, that he missed moves and was playing risky, adding that he hoped the tournament would end soon. Alekseenko said that he thought his position was solid but that he couldn’t find a way to improve it further an win.
This draw leaves both players on the bottom of the board, with 2.5 points out of seven games. This means that both of them will be considered prey for other players who still have hopes of fighting for the top places in the 2020 Candidates.
The 2020 Candidates tournament is now in full swing. After seven rounds out of 14 played,
the participants have all faced each other once and had a chance to leave their starting mark.
Six players have solid chances to reach the first place, which suggests an intense and dynamic struggle in the days to come.
STANDINGS AFTER 7 ROUNDS:
The FIDE President decided to stop the tournament.
It will be continued later, with the exact dates to be announced as soon as the global situation related to COVID-19 pandemic will allow.
The results of the 7 rounds played remain valid, and the tournament will be resumed in the same composition starting with the games of the 8th round. The pairings for the eighth round are:
|Fabiano Caruana (USA)||Maxime Vachier-Lagr. (FRA)|
|Hao Wang (CHN)||Liren Ding (CHN)|
|Ian Nepomniachtchi (RUS)||Anish Giri (NED)|
|Kirill Alekseenko (RUS)||Alexander Grischuk (RUS)|
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